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From #1 New York Times bestselling author Ann Rule, “America’s best true-crime writer” (Kirkus Reviews), her unforgettable classic account of the horrifying murders in the Pacific Northwest and her shock when she discovered her friend—Ted Bundy—was not only a suspect but also one of the most prolific serial killers in American history.

Meeting in 1971 at a Seattle crisis clinic, Ann Rule and Ted Bundy developed a friendship and correspondence that would span the rest of his life. Rule had no idea that when they went their separate ways, their paths would cross again under shocking circumstances.

The Stranger Beside Me is Rule’s compelling firsthand account of not just her relationship with Bundy, but also his life—from his complicated childhood to the media circus of his trials. Astonishing in its intimacy and with Rule’s clear-eyed prose, you can’t help but share in her growing horror at discovering that her friend was one of the most notorious American serial killers.

An unforgettable and haunting work of research, journalism, and personal memories, The Stranger Beside Me is “as dramatic and chilling as a bedroom window shattering at midnight” (The New York Times).

This reading group guide for The Stranger Beside Me includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Introduction

Meeting in 1971 at a Seattle crisis clinic, Ann Rule and Ted Bundy developed a friendship and correspondence that would span the rest of his life. Rule had no idea that when they went their separate ways, their paths would cross again under shocking circumstances.

The Stranger Beside Me is Rule’s compelling firsthand account of not just her relationship with Bundy, but also his life—from his complicated childhood to the media circus of his trials. Astonishing in its intimacy and with Rule’s clear-eyed prose, one can’t help but share in her growing horror at discovering that her friend was one of the most notorious American serial killers.

An unforgettable and haunting work of research, journalism, and personal memories, The Stranger Beside Me is “as dramatic and chilling as a bedroom window shattering at midnight” (The New York Times).

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. In the 1980 preface, Ann Rule tells the reader that Ted Bundy is aware she’s writing the book. Why do you think she felt that was necessary to mention? Did this disclosure influence the way you read the rest of the book? What do you think Bundy’s expectations were for the book and, based on his reaction to the release, were those expectations met?

2. Ann Rule notes that the psychologists and psychiatrists who interviewed Bundy often misdiagnosed him. Only one, an expert on antisocial personalities, categorized him of having antisocial personality disorder. Why do you think that is? How much of this misdiagnosis can be attributed to the state of mental healthcare and society’s awareness of mental health issues at the time?

3. Why do you think the author choose to go into explicit detail when describing the crime scenes and violent acts Bundy performed on his victims? Why do you think Rule chose to depict Bundy as a “normal” man in other moments of the book? Was a “full picture” of Bundy shown?

4. Ann Rule often spoke about Bundy’s ability to manipulate people, specifically women and police officers while in their custody. The closest she came to admitting to being manipulated herself was on page 223 when she says, “If he was manipulating me, he was doing an excellent job of it.” Do you agree with that statement? In what ways, if any, was he manipulating her? How did he benefit from her companionship? Were there benefits for her in that relationship?

5. Many of Bundy’s victims are described as being physically and intellectually similar to his first girlfriend, Stephanie: petite women with long hair, usually brunette, parted down the middle; educated, kind, career-driven. The author goes as far as calling them “protypes” of her (page 425). What are the chances this was just coincidence and not calculation on Bundy’s part? Do you agree with the suggestion that Bundy could have chosen his victims based on their resemblance to Stephanie?

6. Ted Bundy used a number of items when attacking his victims but used pantyhose during his attacks with relative frequency; pantyhose were eventually a solid link between Bundy and murder cases across stateliness. What do you think the significance was in Bundy’s use of pantyhose as both a mask and as a tool for strangulation? Does the use of feminine apparel support or detract from the idea that his attacks were motivated by his hatred toward women?

7. Police officers in the various jurisdictions Bundy passed through had little communication with one another, making his attacks in some areas look like isolated incidents. The use of DNA evidence was still in its infancy at this time, so the seminal fluid, blood, and hair found at the crime scenes were of little help tracking down a perpetrator. With the benefit of hindsight, how could statewide communication among police forces improve individual forces’ ability to catch criminals? How has the role of DNA evidence changed from the 70s–80s to present day?

8. Meg Anders stood by Bundy’s side despite her intuition telling her he was the “Ted” police were looking for, his numerous romantic relationships with other women, and his indefinite jail stays. Why do you think she remained loyal to him for as long as she did? What, in your opinion, finally broke that loyalty? How did you feel when you learned that Anders had written a book about Bundy?

9. Ted Bundy was able to evade the death penalty three times before the state of Florida went through with his execution, despite his alleged willingness to continue giving details about murders he’d committed. Do you think the state should have granted permission for him to continue, allowing him to avoid the death penalty yet again, while detectives corroborated his details? How truthful or complete would you expect his confessions to be? The author raises the idea of sending Bundy to a mental institution. What benefits, if any, could there have been to this course of action? What do you think we can learn about antisocial personality disorder from Bundy’s life, and what do you think doctors could have learned if Bundy had been under observation in an institution?

10. Although he was not as prolific or otherwise noteworthy as many known serial killers, Ted Bundy has been sensationalized and immortalized over the years. What do you think led to this disproportionate level of notoriety? How much of this notoriety is related to the media’s portrayal of him? How much do you think can be attributed to the nature of his crimes?

11. Would you consider the relationship between Ann Rule and Ted Bundy a true friendship? In what ways do you think their relationship was genuine? In what ways do you think it was not?

12. In her overall assessment of Bundy starting on page 419, Rule notes that she believes in the depths of Bundy’s brain that “there is a synapse of cells that is trying to destroy him” (pg. 429). He constantly battled the people who tried to save him, which led her to believe he wanted to die even if he didn’t realize it. Did she provide sufficient evidence to back up this idea? If Rule is correct, do you think his decision to run to Florida, a state known for their follow-through with the death penalty, was a conscious one?

13. When Bundy finally gave Bob Keppel details of the murders he committed, he was explicit about knocking the women unconscious or tossing their bodies. However, Bundy was evasive when speaking about sexual violence. Why do you think he was shy about those details? Do you think he was ashamed of his actions? Do you think he was capable of feeling ashamed, given his antisocial behavior?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Take turns within the group to discuss the first time you heard about Ted Bundy. How do your first impressions compare to Ann Rule’s portrayal of him? Watch a documentary or fictionalization of Bundy’s life. Discuss how he has been portrayed in pop culture and whether or not that portrayal is accurate, given what you know after reading Ann Rule’s account.

2. Consider the way the author and law enforcement at the time described the women who fell victim to Ted Bundy. Discuss the ways that rhetoric is dated, or remains timely, especially in the #MeToo era.

3. Ted Bundy escaped from prison twice, and his second escape was more deliberate and calculated than the first. Was this more of a system failure, or was this a criminal mastermind at work? Read a few newspaper or journal articles about the United States prison system, and discuss what you learn about incarceration.

4. So much has changed about the way we consume news and media since this case broke. How would Ted Bundy’s case have been different had the trial happened now, with social media and twenty-four-hour news coverage? What are the pros and cons of the way news coverage and online communication have developed since the twentieth century?
Leslie Rule

Ann Rule wrote thirty-five New York Times bestsellers, all of them still in print. Her first bestseller was The Stranger Beside Me, about her personal relationship with infamous serial killer Ted Bundy. A former Seattle police officer, she used her firsthand expertise in all her books. For more than three decades, she was a powerful advocate for victims of violent crime. She lived near Seattle and died in 2015.

Leslie Rule

Ann Rule wrote thirty-five New York Times bestsellers, all of them still in print. Her first bestseller was The Stranger Beside Me, about her personal relationship with infamous serial killer Ted Bundy. A former Seattle police officer, she used her firsthand expertise in all her books. For more than three decades, she was a powerful advocate for victims of violent crime. She lived near Seattle and died in 2015.

More books from this author: Ann Rule